Justify defied all the odds on his way to achieving Triple Crown immortality.
The late bloomer won the 150th Belmont Stakes in New York by 1¾ lengths on Saturday, leading all the way to give the sport its 13th Triple Crown champion. American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought in 2015 and now just four years later, racing is celebrating another sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Justify won the Belmont starting from the rail. The last Triple Crown from that spot at the Belmont was Secretariat, 45 years ago to the day Saturday.
Justify’s legacy? The key player on a horse racing ‘dream team’
Justify was the key player on a horse racing “dream team” — the best trainer of all time (confirmed Saturday) in Bob Baffert, a Hall of Fame jockey in Mike Smith who made all the right moves and a thoroughbred whose name will rise above them all.
The scene from Belmont: No pandemonium, but history
Just three years removed from the most recent Triple Crown, the 90,000 who showed up to cheer Justify were not turning their noses up at a chance to witness history.
Sources: Triple Crown gives Justify $75M value
Justify’s Triple Crown victory Saturday was worth an additional $15 million, sources told ESPN, pushing the value of the horse’s breeding rights to a record $75 million.
But Baffert also called Justify one of the all-time greats.
It was jockey Mike Smith’s first Triple Crown. At 52, he is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.
“This horse ran a tremendous race. He’s so gifted,” said Smith, who looked to the sky to celebrate after his ride. “He’s sent from heaven. I tell you, it’s just amazing. I can’t describe the emotions going through my body right now.”
Purchased for $500,000, Justify earned $800,000 for his Belmont win, giving him $3,798,000 in his brief career. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite, he ran 1½ miles — the longest race of the series — in 2:28.18 and paid $3.60, $3.50 and $2.80.
Baffert had fretted after Justify drew the No. 1 post, a spot he detests for his horses. But Smith turned it into an advantage, gunning Justify to the lead and defying any horse to challenge.
Restoring Hope, also trained by Baffert, ran interference for the champion while traveling second and deterring any threats by forcing them to go extremely wide. Nobody did. Smith got the colt into a relaxed rhythm under a moderate pace heading into the backstretch, and he had an easy trip from there.
“You can’t doubt him now, there’s no way,” said Bill Mott, trainer of third-place Hofburg. “He did it right up on the pace, and everybody had an opportunity to take their shot. They didn’t do it. They let it go too easy.”
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, finished second in the 1½-mile race. The 24-1 shot picked off a half-dozen rivals in taking up the chase down the lane.
“At first I was like, ‘Dang, we’re in last place by like 15 yards,'” Rob Gronkowski told The Boston Globe. “But I was like, ‘The race ain’t over, you know?’ And then he’s getting closer and closer and all of a sudden he is fourth, third, second, and I just started going ballistic.”
Vino Rosso finished fourth, followed by Tenfold, Bravazo, Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope, Blended Citizen and Noble Indy before a crowd of 90,327.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.